Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 69 (4/13) -- Move Under Ground by Nick Mamatas

Literary mash-ups are tricky things, prone to self-indulgence and the airless hermeticism of maniacal scholarship -- and, even worse from a commercial point of view, the audience generally has to be equally familiar with both of the frames of reference. That's fine when the mash-up is of something big and crowd-pleasing -- say, for example, Sherlock Holmes and Dracula -- but gets increasingly problematical as the two properties shoved together become less well-known and their respective audiences diverge.

In that spectrum, Cthulhu and Jack Kerouac isn't nearly as obscure as setting the Labors of Hercules in Faulkner country (Howard Waldrop's A Dozen Tough Jobs) -- or, for that matter, nearly every other story Waldrop's ever written -- but it's heading in that direction; Lovecraft and Kerouac's audiences are quite disjoint, though both have more than their fair share of alienated adolescents. But Kerouac's druggy demeanor and fear/hatred of "straight" America dovetails very nicely with Lovecraftian terrors, so it's an appealing combination, for those who can follow both sets of references.

Move Under Ground is that mash-up; Jack Kerouac narrates the story of how he and a few others (the casually perfect Neal Cassady and the pistol-packing William S. Burroughs) stopped the coming of the Great Old Ones in the early '60s, mostly by running away from them at high speed until there was nowhere to run to anymore. It's written in High Beat, verging on a Kerouac parody but never entirely crossing that line, but luckily it's short enough that Mamatas's close approximation of the Kerouac voice doesn't become tedious.

I'll admit that I'm not quite the ideal reader for Move Under Ground; I'm much better read in Lovecraft than in Kerouac, and Lovecraft is the background here. Kerouac -- his life, his friends, his travels, his writings -- are at the center of the novel, and the more you know about who he was and where he was in the early '60s, the more you'll get out of Move Under Ground. The ideal reader for this novel is a serious Kerouac reader who has at least a nodding acquaintance with Lovecraft; the former is much more important to the shape and the details of the novel than the latter. Still, it's an exciting and unique fantasy novel, colonizing another piece of the literary world for things that go Tekeli-li in the night, and of serious interest to any Lovecraftians less conservative in their tastes than the Old Man himself.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: The Broken West - Down in the Valley
via FoxyTunes

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